Maggie curled up on Asher’s parents’ oversized couch in their airy, modern living room and rubbed her temples, trying to focus on her impromptu wedding checklist.
Wishes might come true this time of year, but they still require a lot of work.
Even harder to get that work done in the middle of the holiday season. But the payoff of getting to exchange rings with Asher before the clock struck midnight on the new year was more than worth some frantic planning.
Tonight was the last night of Hanukkah, and tomorrow was December 24th. They had back-to-back family feasts planned; tonight, here with Asher’s brother David and his wife and kids, and tomorrow for the traditional Matsuda Christmas Eve dinner at Asher’s grandparents’ place in Queens. The wedding would be a smaller, quieter affair than both the family dinners—just her, Asher, Ruth, the officiant (a judge friend of the family), and Sarah and Kento. No need for invitations and programs and catering and all the things they’d save for the summer. This was solely about starting the new year as husband and wife.
Her heart skipped at the thought.
And then he entered the room, as if her sappy feelings had paged him. She couldn’t help but grin. “Hey, fiancé.”
He met her greeting with a soft smile. Lord, that face. So damn handsome, beard groomed and perfect for the holidays, eyes bright behind his navy glasses frames. He settled on the sofa and spooned in around her, all cable-knit sweater and jeans coziness.
“You make an excellent pillow for a man made up mostly of muscle,” she said. “I think I’ll keep you.”
“That list suggests you want to.” He nuzzled her ear, kissing the shell. His beard tickled her cheek.
“It does.” She held it up for him to see.
✔ Asher’s suit
✔ Dinner reservation
He tapped on two of the unchecked items simultaneously with his pointer and middle fingers. “Bridal stores’ll be closed for the next couple days, I imagine.”
“I was thinking of going on the 26th or 27th. And really, Ruth and I could go to any clothing store. It doesn’t have to be legit bridal.”
A wrinkle formed between his dark brows. “But you loved that one we saw in that shop window.”
“We’ve been over this. That was a frothy cake of a dress. I’m not a frothy-cake kind of woman. Nor does a wedding in your parents’ living room call for a full-length ball gown.”
Arms tightening around her, he said, “Maggie. If we’re going to do this wedding thing twice, we’re going to make sure both days are a whole lot of special and little bit of magic. So wear whatever you love that lives up to that.”
She shook her head. “I looked it up online. It’s extravagant.”
“Good. So’s the way I feel about you.”
Agh, his words were six times as beautiful as the rest of him. “Way to turn me into a flipping puddle,” she mumbled, tucking her head against his shoulder.
“As long as that puddle can still make out with me on my parents’ couch.” He tipped her chin up with his finger.
Smiling lips landed on hers. She murmured her happiness against his mouth. Kissing this man never failed to overwhelm. Like trying to cram an entire universe into a thimble. Infinite possibility contained in the smallest of intimacies.
A giggle sounded from across the room. “Geez. Are you kissing again?”
They separated, but not in a panicked, jump-apart way. Ruth was well used to them being affectionate by this point. Asher insisted on being open with her.
And because of that, she was with them, too.
“I know what I want for Hanukkah,” she announced, spine straight and voice projecting like she was speaking across the expansive, opulent foyer of the New York Public Library, which they’d visited the other day.
Asher chuckled. “You got your presents the first day we arrived,” he reminded her.
“For Christmas, then. From Maggie.” Her cheeks flushed, and she fiddled with the flip sequins on her long-sleeved T-shirt.
“I already have your gift wrapped for tomorrow, honey—”
“I want to call you Mom,” Ruth blurted. Her eyes were wide, darting between Asher and Maggie.
Maggie’s breath caught under the lump of tears that swelled in her throat. They’d been leaving that up to Ruth. The girl had used the word “mom” a few times, but always as a descriptor, never as a name.
Glancing at Asher, who wore a surprised but content expression, she realized this was something Ruth had been mulling over without talking to either of them.
She waved Ruth to them, scooting to the side a little so the girl could sit between them. She was at that age where she was small but grown all at the same time. And thankfully, she didn’t mind family snuggles.
Ruth looked at Maggie, clearly waiting for an answer.
“I’d love that, honey. It’s the best present you could ever give me.”
The girl hugged them both, then picked Maggie’s list up off the coffee table. “I get a new dress for the wedding?”
“You bet. What style do you want to wear?” Maggie asked. “Should we go for city glam, or full princess?”
“Princess, obvs,” Ruth replied.
“Maybe I should see about getting an appointment at that salon after all. It’s unlikely they’d be willing to sell a sample, but you never know. And they might have some pretty dresses in junior-bridesmaid size.”
Ruth’s smile faltered.
“What’s wrong?” Asher asked.
“I—I mean, I’m glad you’re getting married now. For real. And I’m excited about a new dress. But… I wish Jackson could be here, too. He’ll be sad that he doesn’t get a bow tie.”
Maggie chuckled. “We’ll get him one for our July wedding. Promise.”
Ruth nodded, but it was lukewarm.
“Even if we had someone who could bring him, it would be too hard for him to travel out in a crate in the belly of a plane,” Maggie explained. “He’d get sick from the noise and the stress.”
“I guess.” Ruth looped her arms around Maggie and squeezed. “I love you, Mom.”
“I love you too, honey,” she choked out.
Ruth bounced off, seemingly oblivious to the emotional wreckage she’d left in her wake.
Asher brushed a thumb along Maggie’s wet cheek and chuckled.
“What?” she asked.
“You’re sitting there trying to figure out how to get the dog here, aren’t you?”
Maggie made a face. “I wish there was a way. But he really couldn’t handle a commercial flight, and we aren’t chartering a plane for the sake of having our dog at a wedding.”
“Could you convince your brother to drive him out?”
She rolled her eyes. “A three-day drive in the middle of winter?”
Asher shrugged. “Just a thought.”
“Not a realistic one.”
He took her hand between both of his. “Are you sure you don’t want them here for this? I’m absolutely fine keeping it to just us and Ruth and my parents for witnesses. But if you wanted to put out a spontaneous invitation to our siblings, I wouldn’t say no.”
She glanced around the living room, picturing standing in front of a judge, saying her vows in front of the fireplace in a nearly empty room. Of course it would seem right to have their brothers and their wives and kids and her sister and Ryan here. But with the short notice… “If I asked Lachlan and Stella, and they said no, I think it would break me,” she admitted.
But if she didn’t ask, would she always wonder what they would have said?